US, UK, and Canada woo leisure travelers from India

Source: The Economic Times

Many Indian families will be visiting their kin in the US this summer; or parents will be visiting campuses where their children are studying. But the US commerce department, along with big tour operators in India, has been working towards making US an independent leisure destination for Indian tourists, rather than just visits to friends and relatives or VFR, as that segment is called.

“Following President Barack Obama’s tourism plan launched last year, we have initiated many business-to-business and people -to-people initiatives to make the US a friendlier destination for tourists from India. This includes simplification and fast-tracking of the visitor visa process and granting of multiple entry 10-year visas,” a senior official at the US embassy told ET Magazine.

Uncle Sam woos visitors

An interesting trend is that different states of the US are making efforts to woo Indian tourists independently. An example is Visit Florida, an organisation that opened an office in India recently and estimates that around 58,000 Indians travelled to Florida during 2012, which was a 16% increase over the previous year.

“India is one of the top source markets for us. We intend to showcase popular cities like Miami, Orlando, and Kennedy Space Center. We also plan to launch a Florida specialist programme for the travel trade,” says Tracy Vaughan, director, international sales and marketing of Visit Florida. Theme parks, beautiful beaches, endless entertainment, and culinary and shopping options are some of the reasons that make Florida an attractive travel proposition for Indian families.

Brand USA, the initiative to encourage international visits to the US and to grow its share of the global travel market, is set to launch a big campaign in India in to showcase, among other things, specific destinations such as Niagara Falls, Disneyland and California and Las Vegas.

Through its Visit USA Committee (Vusacom), the US government has been reaching out to tour operators, hoteliers, airlines and destination management companies in India. “The US has always been a big destination for business, education and visiting friends and relatives. But with the new initiatives, which were unveiled about 18 months ago, we have been seeing a growth in the segment of free and independent travellers too,” says Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice-chairman of Mercury Travels and chairman of Vusacom in India. These are people who are in the mid- to high-end range and can be differentiated from the kind of travellers who would go only to Bangkok or Dubai for shopping holidays. They are much bigger spenders, he adds .

According to Kakkar, the steps taken by the US government to simplify B1 and B2 visas — for tourist and business visitors — have given a boost to US-bound travel. Some 660,000 B1 and B2 visas were issued in India in fiscal year 2012. In 2013 there has been a 20% upswing over the previous year so far.

Being a sport

Like the US the UK, too, has been running campaigns in India to change the perception of the country to that of a leisure destination from one just for family visits.

“Last year, in the run up to the Olympic Games we had unveiled a huge promotional campaign. From India we are looking at sports tourism centred around football, cricket and other niche segments such as film tourism or visits to Bollywood-related locations,” says Keith Beecham, overseas network director, VisitBritain.

Specific regions of the UK, too, are working with Indian tour operators to attract bigger numbers of tourists from India. Wales, for instance, is hoping to see a large number of Indian visitors for the ICC Champions Trophy in June. “The tournament builds on Cardiff’s strong track record as a city that can host truly global sporting events and will guarantee fantastic entertainment for cricket fans,” first minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said.

“With global travel becoming an integral part of the Indian lifestyle, countries such as Canada, the US and the UK enjoy strong appeal. Theme parks are of great interest and have led to increased number of visitors to Disneyland. In the UK, major sights such as the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace are on most visitors’ itineraries,” says Vishal Suri, deputy COO tour operating, Kuoni India.

Another conventional destination, Canada, too, is seeing a shift from Indian travellers visiting friends and relatives to leisure travellers. Visitors in the VFR category are adding on vacations such as an Alaska cruise or an adventure trip to Canadian Rockies.

The state of British Columbia, which has a large population of people of Indian origin, is likely to see a growth of about 10% in the number of visitors from India in 2013. “The trend we are seeing is an increase in independent travellers. We are receiving requests for self-drive itineraries, which is great as BC is a very easy destination to enjoy by driving oneself,” says Clare Mason, manager, Destination British Columbia.